Kalle Rovanpera has become the youngest driver to ever win a round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) after he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen secured victory on Rally Estonia. At 20 years and 290 days, Rovanpera claims the record that was previosuly held by the man who is now his Team Principal, Jari-Matti Latvala (who was just over two years older when he won Rally Sweden in 2008).
The win in Estonia, the seventh round of the 2021 WRC, is the fifth victory in a row for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team. Driving a Toyota Yaris WRC (which was built at Toyota’s factory in Estonia), Rovanpera led after all but two of the event’s 24 stages, held over some of the fastest roads in rallying. He took 6 out of 8 stage wins on Friday in a close battle with his nearest rival, Craig Breen (with Paul Nagle) in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
The next day, he pushed harder and extended his lead with some very quick stage times. By the final day, he had a lead of 50.7 seconds, which he ultimately extended to almost one minute with an expertly-controlled drive through the last 6 stages.
Fifth consecutive win for team
The team’s fifth consecutive win (and sixth from seven rounds so far this year) is the longest-ever WRC winning streak achieved by Toyota in its rallying history. All three of the team’s cars finished among the top five, with Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia coming fourth and Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin taking fifth.
Ogier and Evans remain first and second in the Drivers’ standings, separated by 37 points, with Rovanpera up to fourth. With a cumulative 315 points, the Toyota team retains its 59-point advantage at the top of the Manufacturers’ championship, ahead of the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team.
Another 5 rounds remain between now and November, when the Rally Japan will be the final event of the championship. The next round will be the Ypres Rally, the first time that the 55-year old Belgian event has been included as a WRC round. Part of the European Rally Championship, it has a demanding route along farmland roads lined with ditches. The final day will be run around the famous Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit.
Hyundai’s new Rally2 car
The Ypres Rally will see the competitive debut of Hyundai’s new i20 N Rally2 car, successor to the i20 R5. It will be at the forefront of a new initiative from Hyundai Motorsport and the FIA to nurture rally talent from regional championships around the world for the next 3 years. In the FIA Rally Champions World Tour, title winners from 5 series – in Africa, Asia-Pacific, CODASUR, Middle East and NACAM – will get a prize drive in an i20 N Rally2 at a WRC round.
The scheme will initially benefit winners in this season’s championship and the winners in 2022 and 2023 will be rewarded at WRC events in 2023 and 2024 respectively. According to FIA Rally Director, Yves Matton, the scheme will create a pathway for competitors from non-European nationalities to reach the top of the rally pyramid. “It will provide greater diversity in the FIA World Rally Championship,” he added.